Planting Your Garden

 

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I’m running a little behind, as you might have noticed, but I promise to catch up with my posts quickly. Today we did a nutrition education at a public school and we taught the children how to plant a garden. We transplanted the seedlings that they had already started, and we planted some new seeds including carrots, lettuce, and radishes.

The first thing you do when planting, is break up the soil. It has most likely been sitting all winter and has hardened, making it difficult for roots to grow. Tilling it or breaking it up by hand with a shovel or hoe will help aerate it and give the roots room to grow.

Before planting, you should always look at the back of the seed packet. This will give you all sorts of helpful information like how deep to plant the seed and how far apart to space them. It is very important to follow these directions so the plants get everything they need to grow successfully. Some seeds like carrots and lettuce need to be planted without much depth. These seeds need sunlight in order to germinate, and if you plant them too deeply, they will never sprout. Other plants, like onions or tomato seedlings should be planted deeper. If onions are planted too close to the surface, rain will wash the soil away from the bulb and it will not grow as well. Tomatoes should also be buried to the bottom of the leaves so it is not too tall and leggy.

For some plants like lettuce, you should stagger plantings. We planted a couple rows of lettuce now, and will plant another in 2 weeks and another in 4 weeks. This will allow us to have a continuous crop of lettuce as the older plants die off.

Before planting seedlings, it is very important to harden them. If they have been grown at a greenhouse, this step will already be completed. But if you grew your own seedlings, it is important to gradually expose the seedlings to the outdoors otherwise they will die of shock when you transplant them in your garden. Start with an hour in the shade, and gradually increase the length of time the seedlings are outside. It is also important to not let the seedlings outgrow their container. When the roots start to grow out of the pellet, they will sense the air and will stop growing – so it is important to transfer them before that happens (if it’s still too cold outside, transplant into a larger container).

Watering is especially important for transplants. Usually the soil in your garden will pull away all the moisture from the soil that you planted your seedlings in so it is very important to water adequately. When planting seeds, on the other hand, be careful not to over-water or wash your seeds away.

Don’t forget to label each row with what you planted. Also, if you have a tiller – plant rows far enough apart that the tiller can fit in between the rows once the plants have grown.

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use forks and string to make straight rows for planting.

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planting onions

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making rows for lettuce – we used a hoe to make a slightly wider row and sprinkled seeds throughout the row. Then we sprinkled a light layer of topsoil on top.

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plant rows going north to south to minimize shade.

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learning how to transplant seedlings

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patting the lettuce seeds in

 

Choosing What to Plant

If you are just starting out at gardening, it’s best to choose plants that will be easier to grow until you get the hang of it. I’ve included a list below of vegetables that are easy and fun to grow. Another thing to always consider is the climate that you are in. Some plants grow better in certain climates, and if you look on the back of seed packets they will often list where they grow best.

Of course, the most important part of deciding what to plant is always what you like – and what you would want to eat. So look at the list below and decide what vegetables you would enjoy growing and eating and start the first step of planning your garden!

easyveggies

PS – This post is for Saturday, I apologize for being a day late.

Starting Seeds Indoors

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Living in a temperate climate, where the growing season isn’t always the longest, it is sometimes necessary to start some of your garden plants before it is warm enough to plant them outside. All the interns help teach nutrition educations in public schools around Saint Louis – teaching children how to garden – and one of the first lessons we do is planting in a grow table like the one pictured below.

Basically, this is just a specially designed table that a flat of plants can sit on, with a bright light above it so the plants will have light 24 hours a day. However, you don’t need a fancy grow table to start your own plants. You just need a warm, sunny spot that gets good, direct lighting. For our nutrition educations, we planted kolrabi and broccoli in the grow tables. Any plants that take longer to grow, or that you want to harvest earlier should be started early, indoors (we will be harvesting in May). Below is an outline of how to successfully start your plants and get them ready to be transplanted into the garden after the frost free date!

Germination

  • Read the directions for how deep to plant the seeds.
  • These plants need to be covered with the clear plastic covers to make a warm terrarium until they germinate.
  • Water should be at room temperature.
  • Use a spritzer to water so there is a gentle stream instead of pouring water over. A large amount of water can wash away the seeds.
  • Check your plants twice per week to see if they need water. Always test the soil before watering – most plants are killed from over-watering! Feel the soil and if it is only slightly moist – the plants need watered. If it is extremely moist, wait a few days and test it again.

Growth Phase

  • Once the plants have grown leaves and are nearly touching the clear cover, the covers should be removed so the plants are exposed to the air. You may need to water the plants more often after this.
  • Fertilize after the first set of true leaves (the first leaves are called embryonic leaves) appear. Use half concentration fertilizer.
  • Apply enough water for it to drip out the drainage holes.
  • Overwatering is the major cause of death among home-grown seedlings so make sure the soil has a chance to dry out slightly between waterings.

Hardening

  • About 10-14 days before transplanting to the garden, the plants will need to be gradually “hardened” to the outdoor weather.
  • Gradually expose to outdoors –
    • first day, put them in the shade for an hour
    • gradually start putting them in the sun for short periods and gradually increase the time
    • when you are leaving them outside during the day and bringing them in at night, they will be ready to transplant
  • Start gradually watering less often (wait until the soil dries out to water) and stop fertilizing

Why Garden?

Good health starts in the soil. 

Have you ever thought about it? Whether you are a vegetarian or an omnivore, all nutrition originates from the soil. Plants soak up nutrients from the soil and sun, and animals eat those plants to get their energy and nutrition. With this in mind, it is obviously very important to make sure your food is coming from good soil. Healthy soil.
However, if you buy all your food from the supermarket – how do you know if it came from good soil? According to the USDA food database, 1 cup of raw spinach contains 141 mcg of Vitamin A (or roughly 56% of your daily requirements). However, what we often don’t think about is the fact that this is just an estimate, or average. If you go to the grocery store and buy spinach for your salad, it may actually have much more or much less than that amount of vitamin A. 
The amount of vitamin A that spinach has depends upon its growing conditions. Did the soil that it grew in have adequate vitamin A for the spinach to absorb? Or was the soil replete of nutrients and full of arsenic? Did the spinach have adequate sunlight to allow it to grow and absorb the appropriate nutrients? Was it allowed to ripen adequately? All these things can affect the nutrition of that cup of spinach that you just bought. 

What better way to ensure that your food has adequate nutrition and growing conditions than to grow it yourself? Gardening allows you to choose high quality seeds and plant them in soil that you have personally tested for quality. Being so involved in your food’s growing process allows you control over how nutritious it is. You don’t have to worry about pesticides being used, or anything that you wouldn’t want to put into your body.

One of the most interesting things that I found when researching gardening is relating to B12. Vitamin B12 is one of the biggest nutrients that vegetarians have to worry about getting enough of. However, B12 is very common in the soil. In days gone by when most people grew their own food in their garden, vitamin B12 was not a problem, because not all the dirt would get washed off of the produce. People consumed adequate B12 from the soil that remained on their food. In today’s society, we buy all our produce from the supermarket – where it has traveled thousands of miles from its original growing place and has been washed and sanitized numerous times. The produce that we are eating has been so sanitized that no dirt remains on it, and therefore no vitamin B12. Vegetarians that grow their own food would have no trouble getting enough B12.

Gardening is also a great way to get exercise which can help you lose weight and prevent diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and even arthritis. The increased sun exposure can help you get adequate levels of vitamin D as well. As you can see, there are many reasons why you should try your hand at gardening.